CHARLOTTESVILLE -- For the second straight year, Virginia Coach Terry Holland has suspended his basketball team's top returning scorer and set Jan. 1 as the earliest possible date to even consider his reinstatement.

For the second straight year, Holland has no qualms about having done it nor does he regret how the situation was handled.

Last month, school officials announced that Holland had suspended senior forward Mel Kennedy, a two-year starter who averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, for poor class attendance.

Last year, talented-but-troubled all-America candidate Olden Polynice never returned after he was disciplined for shoplifting a pair of headphones in Charlottesville. Polynice, now with the Seattle Supersonics, left the program and a strained relationship with Holland to play one season in Italy before entering June's NBA draft.

"Someone asked me if I'm concerned because this type of situation has come up two years in a row," Holland said. "Of course I'm concerned. Obviously, I never like to have to take disciplinary actions as severe as this. But I hope that I wouldn't allow my judgment in this case to be clouded simply because of what happened last year.

"I do think that we handled each case well because we left the possibility open for the best possible outcome to occur. During the whole affair with Polynice, I'm sure there were times that {former athletic director Richard} Schultz would say, 'Why don't we just get him out of here and get rid of all these problems?' But we left the door open. Obviously that didn't work out, but that doesn't change my mind about how we handled it.

"It's the same thing with Mel. If he wants to come back and meet the guidelines that we've set for him, the door is open. That's not to say whether he will or not, it's to say that the possibility is there."

Holland conceded the chances of Kennedy returning to the team in January are slim. He emphasized that Kennedy's punishment came after a buildup of transgressions, not a single, isolated event.

"I told Mel he's simply dug himself a hole that I don't know if he can get out of," Holland said.

In December of his freshman season, Kennedy -- along with teammates John Johnson and Darrick Simms -- was left behind on a road trip to William and Mary to attend an evening class. Kennedy was suspended from last season's opener against Temple for missing a team meeting.

Holland placed Kennedy on probation after this past spring semester for poor attendance. When Kennedy showed no marked improvement during his summer school courses and the first nine days of the current fall semester, Holland decided on the suspension.

"We set out to make our players a normal part of the school," Holland said. "They have to come to realize on their own that going to class is important, just like any other student. But when a problem develops, we have to set some guidelines. With Mel, the guidelines simply got tougher and tougher until now they're very difficult.

"Some people will tell you that there's no connection between discipline on the court and discipline in the classroom. In terms of talent, that may be true with some exceptional people, but in terms of the type of player we want in our program, we have to operate under the principle that the two are related.

"By this time, we were looking for qualities of senior leadership from Mel. Soon, it became apparent that we were fighting a losing battle. The things I could tolerate in the past from Mel, I thought he should have progressed beyond by now."

Kennedy has declined further comment on the matter since he issued a statement through the Virginia Sports Information Office at the time the suspension was announced.

The most likely scenario is that Kennedy will sit out this season as a redshirt year and -- provided Holland is satisfied with his academic progress -- return to the team for the 1988-89 season.

Praise and support echoed throughout the Virginia athletic department for Holland's action. Kennedy is eligible to play by both NCAA and university academic standards.

"I support Coach Holland completely," said new athletic director Jim Copeland. "It was dependent on Coach Holland's relationship with Mel and the stipulations he set up prior to my coming here. We did sit down and talk about it before it became a public matter, but it was his matter to handle."

Richard McGuire, the athletic department's director of academic advising, said, "Terry Holland is very much to be commended right now. Mel is eligible to play and almost certainly would have been eligible for the season, but the bottom line is that he probably would not have graduated the way he was going. You read so many cases of good athletes forgetting about school in their final year. Now, I think we will be able to count him among those receiving diplomas when May comes around."